By JOHN SHINN
Timing is everything in sports. For Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, it’s all come together at exactly the right moment. He’s blossomed into a sure-fire, first-round pick for today’s NFL Draft.
The timing, however, has not fallen perfectly into place for three other former Sooners.
Two years ago, quarterback Landry Jones was thought to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. Sixteen months ago he had a “first round” NFL Draft grade, but elected to return to school for his senior season.
Now, all prognostications having him still waiting for an NFL team to draft him after the first round ends tonight.
“I think his performance leveled off from where he was early on when he was considered to be the next Sam Bradford,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Now you look at some bad decisions, inaccurate throws. When he gets pressured a little bit in the pocket, some things break down fundamentally.
“He’s got talent. The kid’s got a lot of ability. If you can harness that ability, develop that talent, you might have something.”
Heading into the draft, Kiper has Jones slotted as a third-round pick. If that holds true, Jones will find out his professional destination Friday night.
ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden believes Jones’ tumble down draft boards is a matter of timing. When he looked at Jones’ performances over the last three seasons, it seemed stagnate. There wasn’t a lot of improvement from 2010 to 2012.
“He had a great sophomore year. I don’t remember many sophomore quarterbacks in college football doing what he did. He was unbelievable,” Gruden said. “But you have him in at 6-foot-4; he’s thrown for 16,000 yards; he’s won a lot of games. But he did not have his best year. The Kansas State game was disappointing. Certainly the bowl game against Texas A&M, you’re disappointed. You expect so much more.”
However, Gruden sees an upside with Jones other analysts haven’t.
“I like Landry Jones,” he added. “I think if you’re looking for a quarterback that’s proven he can take care of the football, make a variety of throws and be a reliable person on and off the field, I think Landry Jones might be for you.”
Wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson went the opposite route of Jones. Both opted to enter the NFL Draft after their junior seasons.
Both were three-year starters at OU and both seemed headed for first-round status. Draft analysts believe Stills and Jefferson would have been better served to wait another season for it to occur.
Both are viewed as “Saturday” picks in the fourth round or later.
“Kenny Stills has potential. Obviously, he had some production, but I don’t know that he’s reached his potential, and I think he can be a better receiver, little frustrated at times,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said. “I didn’t think he was as consistent catching the football as he should be. I didn’t necessarily see a pattern there, and that can be a good thing and a bad thing. I just think maybe more consistent focus and reps would be something that can help him.
“I think that a team’s going to take a chance on him probably in the middle rounds. I don’t know that he’s worth a first-, second-, maybe even a third-round pick. But I do think that when you start to get to the early day three portion that Kenny Stills has enough potential that you wind up taking a shot on him.”
Stills’ stock actually received a boost in the draft process. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. However, scouts also look at his 6-foot frame and wonder if he’s big enough to be an elite receiver or consistent enough to be a possession receiver.
Jefferson’s stock was higher when opted for the draft in January. After all, he was an All-American at OU and showed consistent production throughout his three seasons.
What changed was the 4.75-second 40-yard dash Jefferson ran at the NFL Combine. His 5-foot-11 frame had already created some questions over whether he was big enough to be an elite NFL safety. The slow 40 time created doubts about his athletic ability.
For Jefferson, it boils down to whether teams put more stock in the game film than the workouts.
“Jefferson is tough, man. I like the guy on tape. I think he’s a good player,” McShay said. “When you watch him, he’s aggressive, he’s always around the football. His tackling was inconsistent at times but I think he showed some improvement this past year, better than average run support, better than average in terms of his ball skills. You look at him overall, he’s effective near the line of scrimmage. He had 18 tackles for loss throughout his career, and he’s just one of those guys that I thought had pretty good — just a pretty good feel and natural play-making instincts. The problem is with his cover skills. He knew how to protect himself a lot in college, but I just don’t know that he’ll be able to (in the NFL).
“When you see him in space in the one-on-one situations, whether it’s trying to get guys down or trying to match-up one-on-one in coverage, the lack of speed is frightening. On tape, just in terms of how he played in college, he’s probably a mid-round pick. But I think he could wind up falling because it’s so hard to draft a guy in the safety position who is running in the mid-4.7s.”
Kiper agrees with the assessment.
“The numbers weren’t what they were expected to be, but he’s a good football player,” he said. “So where does he go? I’d start thinking about him early day three.”